How to Negotiate for More Maternity Leave

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Negotiating for more maternity leave isn't something you may realize you can do. If your employer has a maternity leave policy, realize that it is not set in stone. Instead, consider it a starting point for negotiation.

In most cases, you probably have nothing to lose. The worst that can happen is that your employer says "no" and hopefully you don' feel you will damage your reputation or risk your job by simply asking for more.
If you're like most women, you didn't ask about your employer's maternity leave when you started working.  Most people don't know very much about maternity leave at all, which is why we wrote a maternity leave primer which outlines your basic rights here. If you find out what it is and you're unhappy with what your company offers, we've put together a checklist of strategies that will help you negotiate:

1. Try to hold off on telling your manager or co-workers you are pregnant until you are "ready."

By "ready", we mean that you understand what your company's maternity leave policy is and whether you plan on negotiating it. If that ship has sailed, try not to make any commitment or set any expectations about your maternity leave plan until you're ready. If your manager says something like, "Will you be taking your maternity leave?", just explain that you'd like to gather more information and set up a time to talk about it soon. This gives you time to do more research. Being prepared when you deliver your news helps everyone and makes you look well-organized and considerate.

2.  Decide what you want, and be specific.

Remember, you are negotiating with an employer and you must start with a clear goal in mind.  What every woman wants will be different. You may want 8 weeks of paid leave when you are only entitled to 6 weeks. Or you may simply want four weeks of unpaid leave because you don't qualify for FMLA. One big factor in what maternity leave you want may depend on what your childcare options are. Some women may not want to put their children into daycare until a certain age, for example.

3. Do your research.

First, consult your employee handbook and get the official policy from HR so you can confirm that your employer is offering you the minimum maternity leave required by law.  If they are, you know anything extra you receive is something they are not required to give you.  If you're sure you're getting less than what is required by law, then you're negotiating from a place of great strength.

4.  Do more research.

Ask your colleagues who have been on maternity leave whether they negotiated and were able to receive "unofficial" deals. Even if they haven't, they may give you advice and help you understand what is possible. Most working moms are supportive of each other and they may share important information.  For example, they may know who was most helpful to them during their maternity leave, who in HR is the best person to ask about things, and other issues you may not have even realized may come up regarding your leave. Try to find out what your company's competitors offer. This may persuade some employers that they should update their policies since companies have become increasingly generous with maternity leave in the past few years. Some of the information you are looking for may exist in our crowd-sourced maternity leave database. And you may (anonymously) contact Fairygodboss members who work at your company if you don't feel comfortable asking them directly.

5.  Determine who you want or need to negotiate with, and size them up.

For many women, their direct supervisor or manager will be their best advocate. If you can win your manager over as your ally, you will be able to approach HR or any higher-up managers together. HR may be unwilling to act without your boss' approval, anyway and generally will be less inclined to help you by deviating from policies that they, in all likelihood, created in the first place. If you're uncomfortable speaking with your direct manager, you may have to speak with multiple people or perhaps go directly first to HR. Whatever your corporate hierarchy, simply remember that your pitch should resonate with them and their familiarity with both you and their responsibilities in the organization.

6.  Provide your manager with a thoughtful, detail maternity leave plan first.  After this has been approved, then negotiate.

our maternity leave plan should include how much contact you will maintain with the office during your absence, your dates of departure and return, what decisions and big milestones you will complete before/during/after your absence (including which colleagues and direct-reports will cover your certain responsibilities), and your plan for managing the transition both into your parental leave period, and then back. These are all things you should address in a formal proposal. You will be in a better position to negotiate more maternity leave if you appear to be well-organized and considerate of your manager's needs. Put yourself in your boss' shoes.  What are the hardest issues and questions she will have about how your work will be done in your absence?  Is there a colleague who can take over some of your tasks? Can certain projects wait until you come back? Will you finish important work before you leave?

7.  Make your requests in-person.

We hope this goes without saying, but if you are asking for special treatment, you will need to make your pitch like a salesperson would.  Look your manager in the eye, and convince them you love your job, the company and are eager to come back to work after you have your baby.  Its important to negotiate in person, rather than over-the-phone or email since you will be able to assess their position by seeing their unfiltered body language.  Your more formal request should probably be written down and go into a lot of detail, but you don't need to go over all of that in-person.  You can email or present them with the document so the conversation is focused on the big picture. In most cases, we think that HR should be informed after your manager has already approved your plan. To the extent that HR also needs to approve your agreement, we think its better for you and your manager to present a united front.

8.  Frame your argument in terms of how it will help the team or your company.

Its easier to frame your problem as a joint problem or opportunity, than as a demand or threat. Although you and your baby are obviously the direct beneficiaries of your maternity leave, your company is not just absorbing costs.  For example, making sure you are happy during maternity leave and adequately taking care of your personal life means you are much more likely to return to the company.

Positioning your request as an exception to the policy can make some managers uncomfortable. Instead, you might try to set it up as an experiment to improve morale or retention. You may be saving the company quite a lot of money and time in terms of recruitment and replacement.  There is a decent amount of research showing that companies experience improved retention of women when they extent their paid maternity leave programs. To bolster your case and make it less about you, consider speaking to other co-workers (even those without children) to find out whether they believe the maternity leave policy would discourage them to return to the company.  If they agree with you, you can point this out (without naming names).

9.  Accept that you may not get everything you want, and actively anticipate alternatives or compromises.

You should come up with a "second best" plan in case your ideal maternity leave situation isn't possible.  For example, you might be able to get a more flexible or a reduced work-from-home schedule that will pay you some money during the leave and also help lighten your employer's work. You also may be able to receive more unpaid time off than more pay.  You should go into your negotiation with an idea of what you think is most achievable and be prepared to compromise a bit. The following are some possible compromises you may be willing to propose in order to possibly receive more pay or a longer maternity leave: job sharing with another employee for part of your maternity leave, part-time work, remote-working and telecommuting, flexible hours, and coming in for special events, seminars or meetings.  While we believe that you should really minimize your work during maternity leave whenever possible, sometimes its not possible.

10. Give yourself a reality check.

Sometimes you shouldn't negotiate or expect much even if you do. For example, if the company is going through hard times and laying people off, you need to be sensitive to the overall context.  If you are relatively new to the company, you've recently gotten pretty bad performance reviews, or don't get along with your boss, it may be unrealistic to expect that you'll be able to negotiate for more.

11.  Stage your requests, if that makes sense in your situation.

If you know you want more time off and may even quit if you are given more leave, consider waiting until towards part-way through your maternity leave to ask for an extension. While this may not always work, if you're convinced you do not want to return to your employer, you and the employer will have nothing to lose at that point if you part ways (though, note, that some employers will ask you to reimburse them for benefits or maternity leave pay if you do not return for a minimum period after your leave of absence).


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